Lies of P is a product of passion. A game clearly inspired by the Souls-like genre of From Software, it works hard to establish its own identity and live up to a wider potential. It’s got charm, familiarity and freshness, but does it live up to the heights of its forebears while really capturing that unique identity? We’d argue that while it isn’t perfect, this pinocchio-inspired dark fantasy RPG is an excellent first step by Neowiz to bring a new, fascinating world to life in an increasingly popular genre.
Since its announcement, one major question has followed Lies of P: does it truly differentiate itself from Dark Souls? From the thematic and narrative side to the combat and exploration, the initial source of their ideas is clear. But the full game paints a far more detailed picture than its demo.
Thematically, Lies of P excels at establishing its own identity. This game does not feel like the ruins of Lordran or the halls of Lothric. It’s almost an unusual choice that they decided to base the game on Pinnochio at all, as there’s little similarity to the original tale beyond character names and tangential, disparate ideas. Yet this fact works in the game’s favour, establishing a world that feels more its own, and impressing a true sense of distinctness on the player.
Level design is aesthetically varied, while maintaining just a strict enough composure to ground the setting in one larger location: the city of Krat. There’s a powerful attention to detail in everything from prop design to colour use. Everywhere from the Hotel to the Cathedral all feel visually unique, yet symbiotic within the wider city.
This is followed through in character and enemy design. No character feels out of place in Krat, yet every character feels different, adding rich flavour to each location. Enemies meanwhile are distinctive, their different movements and different styles abundant. From the flimsy deranged human Stalkers you’ll run into time and again, to hulking industrial giants like the Puppet of The Future, there’s plenty to enjoy in the carefully crafted looks of the opponents populating this world.
Narrative punctuates the tone and atmosphere which setting and character work hard to establish. It’s fair to say that the story itself is the weakest aspect of this half of the game design, but that isn’t to say that it’s bad. Story beats are a little blunter and more straightforward than the winding, whispered narrative that From Soft fans may be used to. This can occasionally impact the sense of mystery the game works to create, but rarely does it really undermine it. Dialogue, the main vessel for this narrative, is where this shortfall most often shows. However, this is most likely a case of poor translations from the original South Korean, something far more forgivable than sloppy writing.
While art direction, enemy design and story are important, there’s still another half to the game. For many Souls fans, there will be much familiarity here. While it may come down to personal taste, we feel that Lies of P just about manages to balance what it borrows with what it changes and adds.
Level design is often unique, but there’s still some obvious inspiration. Enemies populate each area in challenging but manageable numbers, and each location itself feels substantial and intricate, even when relatively short. Lies of P also loves shortcuts. While it doesn’t master them to the degree of Dark Souls 1, it balances its linear level progression with self-contained shortcuts better than the likes of Dark Souls 3, for example. Occasionally, ideas in levels will appear familiar. Tunnels with rolling boulders, swamp areas, and so on. Many of these locations feel like an attempt to take originally imperfect level concepts and improve them. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Unfortunately, a section running across wooden beams while ranged enemies snipe you is probably never going to be fun, Neowiz.
Individual mechanics can vary in their uniqueness. Dodging and guard regain will be familiar to any Souls or Bloodborne fans, while the often rhythmic patterns of perfect guards will be recognisable to Sekiro players. But as often as it uses these ideas, Lies of P works equally hard to distinguish itself with its own mechanics. Complex upgrade systems like the P-organ upgrades add a striking depth to build progression. Weapon and legion arm assembly and upgrade systems allow for a fascinating degree of player control and flexibility. Even weapon repair, an initially innocuous addition, is made engaging by the later addition of special grindstones which allow you to apply temporary element buffs to a weapon. This is all without mention of Cubes, Fable Arts, Hidden Rooms, or the numerous other systems in the game that, while offered, are rarely forced onto the player.
Of course, there’s a third feature of Souls-like game design more critical than levels or individual features: bosses. This is something Lies of P makes special. Only the basic philosophy of boss design remains, and no boss feels like a From Software rip-off. Interestingly, the skill ceiling for some of these fights is actually higher than that of many Souls bosses. The Parade Master is a fairly tough tutorial boss, and the Scrapped Watchman after it an electrifying engagement. Sometimes they do turn out a little rough – King’s Flame Fuoco could’ve done with a bit more work – but on the whole, these boss fights are a largely positive highlight for the game, encouraging true mastery and utilisation of its many mechanics to win.
Lies of P isn’t a perfect game, but then neither were any of the Dark Souls trilogy. Instead, it’s a product of immense passion and deliberate care. On an aesthetic level, it’s luminous, despite the grimdark setting. Character flair and visual style consistently impress a clear sense of atmosphere, while reaching a balance of visuals and sound that keeps the setting equally grounded and immersive. The narrative is interesting, and while not as complex or subtle as a From Soft title, it remains fun enough to carry the story forward.
The title’s inspiration is obvious, but never quite overbearing. A huge number of special features and mechanics work hard to distinguish the game as a unique product. This comes somewhat at the cost of establishing new ideas to push the genre as a whole forward, but serves its purpose of distinction just well enough. Level design is well executed, and the bosses, though not always perfect, are all unique and all engaging, often with a serious challenge.
These two halves create a whole that still has some rough level sections, and the odd frustrating boss mechanic, but more than enough heart to overcome any shortcomings. There is a distinct identity here, there is an impressive craftsmanship, and Lies of P deserves to be rewarded as well as any game made by the studio that clearly spurred them to action. Lies of P is worthy of standing among the greats of the Souls-like genre, and we can’t wait to see what Neowiz does next with this success.